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L.A. Council Planning Committee Again OKs Affordable Housing Linkage Fee

L.A. City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson addressing an August 2017 Affordable Housing Linkage Fee rally. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

For the third time, the Los Angeles City Council Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee approved the city's proposed Affordable Housing Linkage Fee (AHLF). If approved by city council, new development would pay an estimated $100 million annually into a city affordable housing trust fund, resulting in an estimated 1,500 affordable housing units each year.

The linkage fee has been controversial, drawing extensive public comments from both supporters and opponents at PLUM hearings in June and August, and again yesterday. The Coalition for a Just L.A., led by non-profit housing organizations, has pushed to approve a linkage fee that would raise $150 million for affordable housing. Industry and landlord groups have urged electeds to reject the fee largely on the grounds that it would increase the costs of market-rate housing.

In August, the PLUM committee requested several modifications to the proposal. The Planning Department (DCP) returned with a staff report evaluating several modifications proposed in August.

Councilmember Bob Blumenfield has been supportive of the AHLF but, both yesterday and in August, pushed to delay implementation by phasing it in over time. The PLUM Committee ultimately approved Blumenfield's latest proposed timeline that puts off full fees for a year and a half. Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson objected to the delay, pressing for the fee to start as soon as possible. Harris-Dawson stated, "the longer we wait, more families will slip through the cracks."

Councilmember Mitch Englander sounds broadly supportive of the fee, but has demonstrated some skepticism by placing a lot of conditions on his approval. At yesterday's PLUM meeting, Englander pushed strongly for exemptions for all hospitals and all non-profits. The hospital exemption was approved by the committee, while the non-profit exemption was not. The Planning Department notes that non-profit affordable housing is already exempt, and that a broadly defined non-profit exemption "may be vulnerable to abuse" and "would create an incentive for developers to form non-profit entities for the express purpose of evading the Linkage Fee." DCP will return with further analysis, possibly limiting a non-profit exemption to a specific class of non-profits already defined in planning code: "Philanthropic Institutions... devoted to one of three activities - housing, training, or caring for the underprivileged."

With the non-profit exemption not included in the PLUM committee's latest AHLF proposal, Englander voted against it.

With only a lone vote against, the PLUM committee approved the AHLF. Councilmember and PLUM chair José Huizar called the vote "a critical step if the City of Los Angeles truly wants to address our affordable housing crisis head on." Before it takes effect, the fee proposal needs to be approved (or waived) by the council's Housing Committee, and then approved by the full City Council.

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